What are the biggest challenges you see facing the Bar Association?
The latest surveys show a national overall unemployment rate of 8.6%. According to the Wall Street Journal, California has approximately 3,000 new law school grads in 2011 without gainful employment. Members say they are getting calls from super qualified attorneys right and left looking for work. Inhouse departments are shrinking. Insurance companies are squeezing panel counsel. Clients are downsizing. Potential defendants are bankrupt or judgment proof and can’t fund a settlement for contingency fees. The overall economic climate is tough. We need to be doing what we can to keep our lawyers busy and their practices humming.
How do we do that?
The more business we can bring into the Contra Costa County area, the better. So many of our members find work through personal referrals. We make referrals based on the people we know, their abilities and areas of practice. We have talented attorneys in our county. The best way of getting to know people is to get out and meet them. I encourage all of our members to get to as many events as they can. The more that I can refer business to other members, professionals and businesses in the area, the more that those people will then in turn spend money in their neighborhoods and with their service providers, fund the tax base, and provide a richer community for us all.
Isn’t that a little oversimplified?
Yes, but how much time do you have? My parents had a neighborhood pharmacy in Berkeley for 20 years. When the Oakland Hills fire burned out most of our customers and insurance was slow to fund rebuilding, they had to close up shop. I know firsthand the importance to service providers of having a healthy community.
The bottom line is that we need to take charge of our own destinies and help everyone make and strengthen connections with each other. That is the reason for the new inter-professional networking mixers the CCCBA started last year. We partnered with bankers, CPA’s, insurance people, financial services and commercial real estate professionals to amp up the volume of business referrals out here in the East Bay. It is our own little stimulus package. Every little bit helps.
Plus, many of our sections hold topical monthly functions, where you can meet other members and learn about new areas of practice at MCLE programs. These are great. Get involved at the Section Board or committee level. Check out our website for the latest events at www.cccba.org.
How would you compare the CCCBA to other bar associations across the country?
I went to the Bar Leaders Institute program in Chicago, as part of training for the presidency and met leaders of state and local bar associations across the country. During roundtable discussions, I shared how we were set up, our many sections and their finances, our staff and budget process, our MCLE programs, publications, education outreach, and community work, and the people were floored that a local bar association our size was so well run and held so many activities at the section level, as well as at the overall bar level. I think the praise here goes to our dedicated section and committee leaders, Lisa Reep and our great staff at the CCCBA, who make our local bar association so fabulous.
You’ve started a new firm?
Yes! I started the firm of Brown Church & Gee LLP on 11.1.11 with four of my partners from Morgan Miller Blair, where I had practiced for 14 years. BCG is a business centered law firm with a fresh approach to legal services. I provide litigation and counseling to clients in employment matters and business and real estate disputes. Industries we serve include food and beverage, health and medical, manufacturing, technology, financial, professional services and real estate. We represent startups to public companies and many of the mid-market businesses. We are super excited as we move forward and are well positioned to grow in this market.
Tell us a little about your personal history.
I grew up in Walnut Creek and can remember playing in the walnut orchards by my house. We used to build forts in the trees with the kids from the neighborhood. Now I live and work in Walnut Creek and my children go to school here, so I have strong ties and loyalties to this community.
My father was born in China and came to this country when he was 6. He can remember running from the Japanese bombs and air raids as a child during the Sino-Japanese war in the 1940’s. I am so thankful that my grandparents were able to come to America. They arrived with nothing and were able to build a thriving restaurant in the 1950’s in small town Oroville, be great community supporters, and send all 9 of their children to universities (including Cal, Stanford, Harvard, and other UC’s). I am a fifth generation Chinese American on my mother’s side, and my great great grandfather was an herbalist and leader of a Family Association which took care of the railroad and agricultural Chinese workers in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1800’s. There is still a Taoist Temple in Hanford (my mother’s hometown), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, where they started a school in the early part of the 1900’s, which has many of my family’s historical belongings on display. (If you’re interested, check out www.chinaalley.com)
I know my family’s history is similar to many others. This country provides opportunities that would be impossible in other places. Sometimes, I think we forget that so much of what is good in California is built from the hard work and leadership of immigrants. I never cease to be thankful for those opportunities and the liberties and freedoms we have in the United States and want to ensure those for future generations.